The Best Cinematographers Share Their Inspirations!

By Srikanth Kanchinadham. Posted on June 17, 2015

We stumbled upon this amazing post on the Empire Magazine (thanks to No Film School), where 24 cinematographers discuss the shots that've inspired them the most. These include cinematographers like Roger Deakins, Darius Khondji, Phedon Papamichael, Jeff Cronenweth and Barry Ackroyd. There's a lot to learn in what these cinematographers have chosen and why. We've listed down a few of these. You can check out the rest over at Empire.

1. Roger Deakins -  Ivan’s Childhood

I don't know how to pick just one shot - I guess it depends on what mood you're in that day - but there's a shot in Ivan's Childhood where the boy is crossing between the German and Russian lines that I absolutely love. It's this incredible black and white landscape, illuminated by flares like a kind of ghostly hinterland, with this downed fighter plane jutting out of the earth. I don't know what camera Vadim Yusov shot with in the water, but I'm sure it was a lot heavier than the ones we use now. He also shot Solaris for Tarkovsky, which is also a remarkable-looking film. Yusov died recently - I was sad not to have been able to meet him.

Sadly, we couldn't find the shot, hence we embedded the entire movie for all of you to be amazed.

2. Darius Khondji - Touch of Evil

I remember being incredibly excited by the opening shot of this movie. Even as a young film buff, a film student, and later on as a young cameraman, I always thought this shot was remarkable: very atmospheric, very bold and very free. It starts with a very tight close-up of a bomb, the tick-tack of the clock on an old-fashioned bomb. Then it's placed in a car, and you pull up from the vehicle and start to crane up over the city with the cars and the traffic jams on the Mexican border. [Orson Welles] was rendering the evilness in the atmosphere at the time.

What's incredible is how they achieved such a shot in 1958. Only Orson Welles could have gone for such a shot, pushing his cinematographer to go and light a city without any lighting -- it was just amazing. Now in digital you can achieve a shot like this, or even more complicated shots, but you don't have to light, you can use film practicals to generate the light. But at the time everything had to be lit, the ASA was very low and you needed lights everywhere. And he managed to achieve a very eerie look, realistic but at the same time very stylized -- very low-key and contrasty. But at the same time it was a night shoot in Mexico, it looked like.

It's just very, very remarkable, I was really mesmerised by the fluidity -- well, not fluid, more aggressive. It kind of drags you, pulling you out, suspending you in the air and then bringing you suddenly back into the car – and then wide again to oversee the explosion.

3. Phedon Papamichael - Le Mepris:

This is my favourite Godard film. It's a movie that first made me aware of the cinematographer's job. I grew up watching films and always had a fascination with it, but this was the first time I realised that there was somebody else besides the director behind the camera. This sequence was shot at (modernist clifftop villa) Casa Malaparte, and I was lucky enough to go there two years ago. You can't really get to it as a regular tourist, because there's no road access, but I took a boat. It's completely overgrown with trees now, but in the film it just stands as this incredible edifice on a rock.

4. Jeff Cronenweth - Blade Runner

I'm picking this scene from Blade Runner because it's so close to me, but also because it amazes me as a cinematographer to this day. You can take any of the shots in this sequence and you'd know it was from Blade Runner. This was a space movie and detective film that was presented in a classic noir way and shot anamorphically. The sets were massive, the lighting set-ups were huge and the film stock wasn't that fast, so to get the level of subtlety and sophistication is just phenomenal to me. I've probably seen it 30 or 40 times.

5. Barry Ackroyd - Apocalypse Now

Paul (Greengrass) and I both refer to The Battle Of Algiers - that genre of filmmaking which tried to show what was really happening in the world, but with great, great images. But I'd have to fall back to Apocalypse Now which is rich in these beautiful qualities, and captures the intimacy and the scale at the same time - turning ugly things beautiful, and beautiful things ugly.

The sequence that sticks in my mind is when they go up the river at night. The fires are burning as they approach the tribe, and they're drawing closer and closer to Kurtz. I thought about this shot a lot on Captain Phillips because if you shoot night on water you have to have light, and in Apocalypse Now they generate light from all kinds of things: from fires and gunfire to light festooning across burning bridges.

In the back of my mind on Captain Phillips I was always thinking, "How can I justify light here?", because ships at battle stations don't have their lights on. It was like that with Green Zone, where we'd rule out any source of light in a scene but that would give rise to sequences that fit back into my vision of Pennebaker's daring. It's exciting. We'd joke with each other: "Some people would say this isn't possible.



1 Comments so far

Share your views

Wanna be a filmmaker?

Subscribe to our newsletter and get ahead.